KAM Customer Life Cycle

KAM Customer Life Cycle

How do you know what to do at the different stages in your customer relationships?

This is such an important question yet most organisations have not established a clear distinctive path, identifiers and actions for effectively managing the full customer relationship journey.

The customer life cycle is one of a few important contributing models for giving any individual, team and organisation greater clarity and confidence to know what to do when the next steps in the relationship journey are unclear.

If you’ve found yourself or your organisation has found themselves in this situation of being unclear on the next step then read on, as it’s likely there was not a robust view of the customer life cycle for your most important customers.

What is the Customer Life Cycle?

The term customer life cycle is still very new and can be traced back to the early 90s.

Its use was popularised in the field of marketing and spawned a new thought movement that inspired what is now used within the customer experience industry. Hundreds of thousands of companies now use customer life cycle around the world for their customer relationships.

Companies like Hubspot, Mckinsey and Apple say they get benefits from evaluating their customer life cycle to:

  • Increase customer profitability.
  • Strengthen brand position and retention of key customers.
  • Product innovation and new market access.

Today, the customer life cycle is defined as:

The steps a customer goes through when they are considering, buying, using, and remaining loyal to a particular product or service.

While this might be a helpful starting place, it is certainly not where it ends.

This is especially true when it comes to the application of key account management and the elements that shape the success of existing customer management.

Part of customer life cycle management is the business processes an organisation uses to move the customer through the customer life cycle, and how each area of an organisation can contribute to that success. 

There are different stages in the customer life cycle and various methods to define them. 

One approach is that of Jim Sterne and Matt Cutler, as published in 2000 in a paper called “E-Metrics, Business Metrics For The New Economy”.

The paper illustrates one of the most effective views of the customer life cycle I’ve seen. Although it is not specific to key customer management, the steps illustrated are powerful and need to be considered.

In this blog for each of the eight steps of the full life cycle management, I’ve shared a specific question and action to guide how you can discuss this internally and then apply it.

You can be at different stages with a customer, but it is vital you are aware that every customer will go through this cycle every time you begin something new, a contact changes or their needs shift.

  1. Awareness
  2. Knowledge
  3. Consideration
  4. Selection and Assessment
  5. Buying
  6. Satisfaction
  7. Retention & Loyalty
  8. Advocacy  

KAM Customer Life Cycle

ADVOCACY

Core question: How are we creating customer champions?

Advocacy is about a mutually known and appreciated relationship that is proactive and reciprocal.

Meaning: Your customer proactively and openly supports you, and in turn you support them.

Customer champions do not happen by accident. 

In your department, the role you play and your access to customers will be different. Everyone’s role is important in influencing the story and experience your customer has of your organisation. 

Here are two questions to get your discussions started.

  1. Are you tracking how engaged and satisfied customers are with your department(s)?
  2. How are you involving customers to confirm the positive story they have of why you as their organisation of choice?

AWARENESS

Core question: How do we position our value?

Value is one of the three core customer growth drivers.

Without value, credibility and influence with any organisation are lost over time. 

Positioning your value is a daily active consideration that must be put into every interaction with your customer.

Remember that value may look different for your customers, so consider it carefully.

Here are three things every department needs to consider in response to this.

  1. How are you bringing value to customers?
  2. What is the impact of the value you provide to customers?
  3. How do your best customers know and acknowledge the value you provide?

KNOWLEDGE

Core question: How are we educating customers on insights from their business?

As you get to know your customers, their view of who you are to them will change.

This is largely influenced by the level and depth of engagement with your customers outside of the products and services you deliver.  

Believe it or not, the closer you get to your customer the more you will see about them than they see of themselves. 

Each department has a different picture of the customer based on their role. 

Never underestimate the conversations you have with your customers. Even the ones that may seem mundane and trivial. 

Use these two questions to get started.

  1. What do you know about your customers today that your customer would benefit from also knowing?
  2. What information are you not gathering that could help you share new insights with customers?

CONSIDERATION

Core question: How are we connecting our customers?

Two of the most powerful forms of influence are social proof and authority. Both are connected when others talk about what you do, and also when others point at the results of what you do.

In the area of Consideration, connecting your customers with other customers, new ideas and opportunities will increase the perceived value of your organisation. It also confirms in their mind that you are, and remain to be, the right organisation to do business with.

Sometimes we need to do less and allow others to do more in regards to sowing the seeds for new opportunities.

For each department here are three considerations.

  1. How do you currently tell the story of results with customers?
  2. How many new and innovative ideas do you bring to the customer relevant to solving their key problems?
  3. How good are you at promoting internal collaboration and communication between customers?

SELECTION and ASSESSMENT

Core question: How are we making ourselves easy to choose as a partner?

At some stage in your customer relationship, your customer will make decisions on the future use of your services.

Whether you like this or not, it will happen.

In Selection and Assessment, there are two critical actions. 

  1. You must evaluate if a customer relationship is actually right to continue investing in, and if not, communicate why to the customer.
  2. We must honestly evaluate how easy we are for our customers to do business with. 

Here are three questions to consider.

  1. How easy are you to work with for your customer?
  2. How good is your communication?
  3. How does your customer feel about your interaction?

BUYING 

Core question: How quickly are customers getting results from their purchase?

Whenever a customer makes a purchase, there is almost always a mixture of excitement and nervousness.

The excitement of the result to come and nervous about if, when and how you’ll achieve on the expected results.

Each of your internal departments is responsible for supporting the realisation of those results for the customer. 

Whether explicitly or implicitly, every part of your organisation has an impact on the customer result.

Everyone has a part in communicating a clear picture and path of results for your customer often.

Here are three considerations for you and each of your internal departments.

  1. What is your contribution to the result for the customer?
  2. What results can you help your customer get?
  3. How can you help other departments get results for key customers?

SATISFACTION

Core question: How good are we at the post-purchase experience?

One of the most commonly cited annoyances of customers is poor post-purchase experience.

The post-purchase experience is just as important as the product and service function. 

Why? Because over time we evaluate the value of doing business with an organisation based on the consistency of how they made us feel and not just the results.

For each department here are three considerations.

  1. What is your role in the post-purchase experience?
  2. What improvements can you make to the experience?
  3. How will you track and measure the impact of the improvements for your department?

RETENTION

Core question: How are we managing loyalty?

Ultimately, all the activity we engage in is designed to keep our most important customers year after year.

The fully coordinated approach you take as an organisation matters to the collective decision of the customer.

Loyalty is both a function of management and magic. 

We need a clear set of principles that make loyalty a natural conclusion and a customer philosophy. It is this that will make each individual engagement with a customer a priority.

For each department here are three considerations.

  1. What is your personal customer satisfaction score?
  2. What is your role in customer loyalty?
  3. How do your current relationships with all stakeholders impact long term loyalty?


WHAT NEXT?

At any point in your customer relationship, you can review this list and identify what particular areas may need your focus.

This is not an exercise you should undertake as an individual. The real impact and change only comes when you include your colleagues and peers from outside of your own department.


If you need support in applying these ideas for your business, get in touch with my team!